Murderous Xenophobia In South Africa
EVERY right-thinking African would be embarrassed and mortified by the horrendous images that have emerged from South Africa over the past fortnight. In premeditated and well-orchestrated xenophobic attacks, black South Africans have set upon immigrants from Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and elsewhere, looting their homes, destroying their businesses, and inflicting grievous bodily injuries with clear intentions to kill. As at last count, no fewer than 42 immigrants had been killed in the townships around Johannesburg, the country's economic capital. Thousands of immigrants have since sought refuge in churches, police compounds and other temporary safe havens.
A good many who have survived have begun an exodus back to their countries of origin. Nothing could have been more touching than the desperate remarks of a Zimbabwean survivor, who said that it was better for him to return home to adversity, rather than allow himself and his family to be butchered by the rampaging bands of lawless black South African youths. He said that if he died at home, in Zimbabwe, his parents could locate his grave.
No rationalization can justify these murders, wanton looting and lawlessness that are dreary reminders of black-on-black violence in the dark days of apartheid. Perpetrators of this mayhem claim that African immigrants are taking over their jobs, and therefore aggravating the rate of unemployment, which is at 23 per cent, or 40 per cent (by some independent estimates). The hooligans also charge that the migrants have accentuated the pressure on infrastructure, especially housing. Above all, they allege that the foreigners are largely to blame for the escalating rate of crime in the country, which ranks as one of the highest in the world. But these are, at best, unsubstantiated allegations.
There is also the implied insult that other Africans are predominantly responsible for some of South Africa's socio-economic challenges. Those who know the country well enough need little persuasion about the abundance of indigenous criminal elements, who are capable of committing unlawful killings, rape, and running drug rings for which foreigners are being made scapegoats. It is even more shameful that the "houses" from which the immigrants have been sacked are more or less shacks in the townships of Alexandria, Soweto, and Diepkloof. There is no evidence that African immigrants have usurped or abused South Africa's welfare system.
The evidence, though, points in the direction of displaced aggression. The country held so much promise and hope, with the collapse of apartheid in 1994. But the government led by the African National Congress (ANC) has not been able to deliver fully on its promises - on jobs, housing, and general economic well-being of the black majority. The white minority still lives in opulence, while the black majority contends with squalor. Even with the enunciation of a black economic empowerment scheme, the beneficial effects are taking so long to trickle down to the majority. This has created a crisis of expectations.
Yet, there is no justification for the harassment and extermination of foreigners, more especially black Africans. Some of the black South Africans, who appeared on television and were heard boasting that they were indeed out on a pogrom against foreigners, are certainly not teenagers. They are much older, which presupposes that they were born well before 1994 when the walls of apartheid came tumbling down. That being the case, they are expected to have a sense of history - of where they are coming from, and how they arrived at where they are today. It smacks of extreme ingratitude that nationals of countries, which wholeheartedly and sometimes at great cost supported the anti-apartheid struggle to the hilt, are now being targeted for elimination in the raging paroxysm of xenophobia among black South Africans.
Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Mozambique were among the Frontline States. These countries provided sanctuaries for South Africans who fled the apartheid enclave. These countries utilized their resources to educate black South Africans, to aid their quest for freedom and non-racial rule. Indeed, the anti-apartheid struggle was one that engaged the energies of the entire black race, because of the firm belief that we are our brother's keeper. The murderous attacks on fellow Africans now show clearly that these criminal black South Africans are their brother's killers. Decent South Africans must ask themselves whether this is the image they want to showcase to the world during the World Cup in two years' time. They must also ask themselves whether these attacks in any way further or derail the cause of integration of the Southern African Development Commission.
Nevertheless, it is reassuring that eminent South Africans have spoken up against the unwarranted mayhem. Former President Nelson Mandela, his ex-wife, Winnie; incumbent President Thabo Mbeki, and ANC leader Jacob Zuma have lent their voice and authority in condemnation of the attacks. Also, last Thursday, both Presidents Mbeki and Umaru Yar'Adua of Nigeria met in Arusha, Tanzania, to discuss, among other issues, the maltreatment of Nigerians by both citizens and law enforcement agents in South Africa. We would expect President Mbeki to appreciate the urgency and gravity of the current state of affairs, which is undesirable and unacceptable. The South African government has a duty under international law to protect all foreigners living in its territory.
In a globalised world, the gory images of African immigrants burnt to death by South African mobs will elicit horror and anger and a quest for justice. Significantly, the attacks of the past fortnight are not isolated. In 2005 and 2006, black South Africans in the Eastern and Western Cape Provinces attacked Somalis. We are sure that black South Africans are well aware that they do not possess a monopoly of cruelty. They also need to be reminded that there are South Africans living elsewhere on the continent, who have a need to be safe too. The South African government must put an end to this shame on the black race.
- Culled from The Guardian, Sunday 25 May, 2008